Review: An Unnatural Life by Erin K. Wagner

Author: Erin K. Wagner
Publisher: Tor.com
Released: September 15th, 2020
Received: NetGalley
Warnings: Assault, abuse of power

4 kitties

I received a copy of An Unnatural Life in exchange for a fair and honest review.

An Unnatural Life is the latest novella from science fiction writer Erin K. Wagner. This is one of those novellas that’s going to make you think. It’s goal is to make you uncomfortable, and to assess your biases, but in ways that you might not expect.

812-3 is a cybernetic organism accused and found guilty of murder. They’ve been spending their time in a prison on Europa. That is, until Aiya got involved. She was sent there in an attempt to help rehabilitate cybernetics like 812-3, but she ended up diving in deeper than expected.

You see, 812-3 is claiming they didn’t commit the crime, and they have a very good reason for wanting the help from a lawyer like Aiya. The real question is, is humanity willing to give cybernetics more rights?

“Either they’re machines or we’re monsters.”

“Well, the latter’s a given.”

Warnings: An Unnatural Life is designed to make people think and feel uncomfortable, so the use of tense subjects shouldn’t be a surprise. There are portrayals of assault and abuse of power within these pages. It’s an inescapable element of the plot.

Holy cow. I was not prepared for the way An Unnatural Life would make me feel. This is a brilliantly written novella, one that hits right in the heart. It also makes you think, and I adore that.

I got sucked into this novella when I saw it described as Murderbot meets To Kill a Mockingbird. I adore both comparisons, so it only felt natural for me to try this piece. I cannot tell you how accurate those comparisons are.

Wager took all of the struggles and injustices portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird, and put them into a different context here. That much is pretty obvious, even from the description. It should also be clear that this isn’t exactly a happy story. But it does make the point.

It makes that point with so much power and emphasis. It left me feeling a little bit shaken, by the time I was done. It’s impossible not to feel invested in 812-3’s story, or in Aiya’s fight for a fair trial for their sake. It’s all wonderfully done.

“We cannot – we will not – abide this sort of vigilante justice which has no regard for due process. I understand, I am human, I understand the urge to seek out your own justice when looking into the eyes of one of them. But we must rise above our first instincts and prove ourselves human even when facing the inhuman.”

If anything, my only complaint would be that the reactions of the humans felt too real. Too pain. It’s easy to hope that people wouldn’t react in such a way, but doing so would be an injustice.

Long story short, I adored An Unnatural Life, and cannot wait to see more from Erin K. Wagner.

About Liz (AKA Cat)

I am an avid animal lover, photographer, reader, and much more. While my photography blog is feeling a bit neglected at the moment, the other sites I'm involved in are going strong. ✧I review books, comics, and basically anything else in the literary world over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks (of Books). ✧I review comics and books, as well as write content for Word of the Nerd. ✧I review comics for Monkeys Fighting Robots. ✧I write content for Screen Rant and CBR. ✧I write book reviews for The Review Crew.
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